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Game Reviews

Review: ‘Trails of Cold Steel III’ Delivers a Powerful Continuation to a Beloved Series

‘Trails of Cold Steel III’ is the strongest and hardest-hitting entry of an already beloved franchise.

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Patience is a virtue, and few games embody that sentiment as well as the “Trails” series. Ever since the 2011 Western release of The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky for the PSP, developer Nihon Falcom has gradually introduced players to the incredibly intricate and engrossing world of Zemuria. Now on the franchise’s eighth installment, The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III continues the trend of deeply personal storylines becoming entangled with greater ploys, flexible turn-based combat, and a world given as much love and attention as a mother would their child. 

A Story of Changing Times

About a year and a half has passed since the events of the second Cold Steel game. Our long-standing protagonist, Rean Schwarzer, finds himself in search of a new purpose and winds up at the newly opened location of his old alma mater — Thors Military Academy Branch Campus — as one of its instructors. Deeply affected by his own time as a student at Thors, he hopes to give back what he’s received and maybe even reclaim something which was lost. Rean is put in charge of a newly formed Class VII and strives to guide his new pupils during turbulent times just as Instructor Sara did for him prior.

Trails of Cold Steel III Class VII

Newcomers looking to jump straight into Trails of Cold Steel III will find a comprehensive primer in the game that covers the events of the previous titles. However, due to the deeply interconnected nature of the games, it is still highly recommended to have actually played the previous Trails entries, at least Cold Steel I & II, before jumping into Trails of Cold Steel III.

True to series form, the story of Trails of Cold Steel III is one of constant upheaval and unease punctuated with poignant moments of tender heart-to-hearts, even if it does tend to rely on “saved-by-the-bell” plot devices one too many times. Like every Trails game before it, the story is full of mind-blowing plots twists and touching personal stories. Fans that have been following the series since its onset will find payoffs and tied up loose ends that hit fast and hard throughout the campaign. 

The narrative displays a new side of Rean as he shows maturity and stern care for his students and demonstrates a clear degree of growth from the experiences he’s been through. It’s difficult to not get choked up at times during moments that highlight Rean and his fellow original Class VII members’ growths.

Altina Orion
Altina is a gem and must be protected

The new Class VII, though, is just as engaging as their predecessors. The straight-forward and gung-ho Juna Crawford and down-to-business Kurt Vander are immediately likable and quickly develop a dynamic relationship with one another. Rean’s enemy-turned-aid Altina, meanwhile, is a particular standout as she learns what it means to truly care for others throughout the course of the game.

Artes and Crafts Lessons

While times may be a-changin’ in Erebonia, the combat in Trails of Cold Steel III remains largely the same as its predecessors, albeit with some interesting additions. At its core, up to four party members take turns maneuvering around a field and executing various character-specific crafts and equipable artes to gain the upper hand in battle. 

Manipulation of turn order to nab randomized turn bonuses is still present and it’s still just as satisfying to line up the right bonus with the right character. Meanwhile, deciding whether to clump your party together to more easily assist each other or split them apart to avoid being targeted all at once by enemy attacks is one of the many considerations to take into account that brings about stimulating combat.

Trails of Cold Steel III Combat
Each action menu being assigned to a single button is a nice quality-of-life update compared to previous games’ radial menus

Link pairs make a return along with all their benefits such as boosting the power of partners’ artes or unbalancing the enemy. Unbalancing an enemy allows for that character’s link partner to follow-up with an attack of their own while also granting Brave Points, or BP. These can be used on Rush and Burst link attacks like previous games but now also serve the purpose of activating one of Trails of Cold Steel III’s new combat systems, Brave Orders.

Brave Orders are powerful buffs that consume BP to affect the whole party and can be used on any character’s turn in addition to their regular actions. They range from simply boosting damage dealt to something as significant as rendering your entire party invulnerable for a number of turns. Issuing the proper Brave Order at the proper times to get out of a tight spot provides a powerful adrenaline rush, especially when paired with the killer guitar riffs of a stellar soundtrack.

Break bars are also a new addition to Trails of Cold Steel III and suffer damage in conjunction with enemies’ regular health. Once depleted, the enemy is “broken”, delaying their turn, lowering their defenses, and guaranteeing every attack on them will unbalance. It’s a neat addition that encourages aggressive play as breaking the enemy can either provide valuable breathing room to recuperate or provide an opportunity to really lay on the hurt. 

Trails of cold Steel III Brave Order
Brave Orders can readily change the tide of battle

The addition of break bars and Brave Orders does rather trivialize any difficulty the game may have for the first half or so of the journey. The difficulty does eventually ramp up the heat and throw some fights your way that demand full understanding of these systems to come out on top, though, and triumphing them is nothing short of exhilarating.

Divine Knight mech battles are back for set-piece moments as well but beyond the addition of up to two other party members joining Rean in their own Panzer Soldats, these spectacles remain largely unchanged from the previous game. They’re still a victory lap to wrap up a chapter at their best with little to offer strategically.

Being a Proper Erebonian Citizen

When you’re not off slaying mystical Cryptids or clashing with the ever enigmatic society of Ouroboros, you’re doing the rounds and checking in on those not on the frontlines. One of the Trails series’s greatest strengths is how it builds its world and the people inhabiting it, and Trails of Cold Steel III is no exception. 

In addition to his responsibilities teaching at the academy, Rean’s duties will take him all around the previously unseen Western side of the Erebonian Empire. New locales such as the old capital Saint-Arkh and the dazzling coastal city Ordis are welcome sights after the first two games essentially used the same locations.

Trails of Cold Steel III Crossbell

Graphics from a technical standpoint can still seem stuck in the PS3 era at times but are made up for with acute attention to detail that make these locations feel lived in. Unique items line the shelves of every shop, each student’s dorm room has memorabilia that makes it distinctly theirs, and street corners are packed with interesting architecture.  It’s a shame that level of detail still hasn’t carried over to field and dungeon designs, however, as they remain rather bland corridors with the occasional pretty vista or two.

That detail does carry over to NPC dialogue, though, and that goes a long way towards fleshing out the believability of the world. Almost every NPC in Trails of Cold Steel III is named and has their own life that can be followed throughout the game. Speaking with them delivers more than the usual town exposition and instead expands upon the worries of the little people and how these nation moving events have affected them. This is a narrative treat that makes speaking with each and every NPC to check in on their lives an intrinsically gratifying endeavor that gives fascinating glimpses into microcosms of life.

Bonding events, meanwhile, can once again be viewed during Rean’s free days on campus. Beyond increasing bond level that translates to extra battle bonuses, bond events are more importantly when the player and Rean can learn more about his students and allies in meaningful ways. These events are specific to the day they happen on, which means some will be inevitably passed up on a first playthrough but that just makes the ones that are seen feel all the more special.

Randolph Orlando

Such attention to world and character building comes at the price of pacing, however, just as it has in every past Trails game. One can go hours without seeing a single battle depending on how much you choose to engage with Trails of Cold Steel III’s world, which can sometimes feel quite lop-sided. Often times this isn’t an issue because of the aforementioned details but it does sometimes drag when you are wanting to see the next story beat or just want to beat up some monsters.

Arise, O Youth!

In an industry that has prominently been pursuing making soft reboots and sequels of long-running franchises as accessible to newcomers as possible, it’s rare to see something like The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III that so boldly builds upon the foundations and lore of every previous game in the series. It’s everything that fans have come to adore about the games with a far-reaching story that connects with many aspects of previous titles, characters and a world that organically grow alongside the player, and an engaging battle system with some shiny new tools. It’s a bit of a shame that the flaws persistent throughout the series such as bland dungeon design and uneven pacing have also stuck around but that hasn’t brought the extreme highs down by all that much.

Nihon Falcom is keenly aware of exactly why people play and love their Trails games and that shows by the distinct refinement demonstrated here. This isn’t a reinvention or a bold evolution but the enhancement of every aspect that makes these games so special. The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel III is the strongest and hardest-hitting in the series and one of the most satisfying JRPG’s on the market. Fans of the genre owe it to themselves to not let this veritable gem pass them by.

Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world. You can follow more of his work at his blog and budding YouTube channel below.

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Game Reviews

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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Game Reviews

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Multiplayer Offers Classic Gameplay with a Couple of Twists

Love it or hate it, ‘Modern Warfare’ multiplayer is back and as nostalgic as ever, with a few twists.

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Call of Duty Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare often gets a bad rap as a formulaic franchise, especially when it comes to multiplayer. From the original Modern Warfare to more recent titles like WW2, the experience has often felt like a fresh coat of paint on an old, yet addicting, model.

This approach is not always a bad thing though. For fans of the series, the nostalgia and consistency is often the main selling point, and they are always ready to bring the same skills back into a new title’s running and gunning action.

So when Infinity Ward announced that the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would focus on revolutionizing the franchise with realistic gameplay, no one was really sure what to expect. Naturally, fans were eager to see how this new combat and action would translate to a multiplayer experience but also wary of whether a radical change would ruin the experience they craved.

Well—love it or hate it—Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer is back and just as nostalgic and familiar as ever, although the update brings a couple of new twists. While it’s light years away from perfect, this newest installment in the franchise still offers up classic gameplay with a couple of interesting alterations. For longtime fans, these changes might be positive or negative, but Infinity Ward at least deserves some credit for trying.

Getting tactical

To put it simply, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer gameplay leans more towards what some would call a tactical, cover-based style of combat. In theory, this sounds like a fairly fresh approach to the run and gun style of the past. This new style forces teams to work together to slowly climb up the map, holding various chokeholds while pushing up on enemy positions.

With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare taking a more realistic approach to combat, it’s natural the multiplayer strategies will change as well. Like the campaign, guns feel more realistic and powerful, resulting in quicker kills and more damage taken. Combined with the new “mount” cover system, this often means that players get mowed down pretty quickly.

But—full disclosure—this new multiplayer gameplay generally means that the game rewards staying in one place for a majority of a match. For lack of a better word, camping. While past COD games placed a heavy emphasis on speed and movement, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare wants players to find a strong, defensible position and hold it.

Modern Warfare Multiplayer

Sure, running and gunning still have a place in Modern Warfare, but it’s definitely not as functional as it has been in the past. Often times, it means just blindly stumbling into the same quick death and missing out on those killstreaks. While not perfect—and a little unbalanced—switching the style up is an interesting move that could be successful with future updates, although no promises.

There’s no list like the quick playlist

It should come as no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer’s best quality is its Quick Play maps. While the gameplay has shifted to a certain extent, this mode still is a grab-bag of the old nostalgic favorites that pretty much sum up the past decade or more of Call of Duty online. This option has all the old favorites—the traditional Team Deathmatch, Control, and Kill Confirmed—plus a few new additions.

For most COD veterans, these modes are the bread-and-butter of the franchise, and Infinity Ward has really boiled FPS fun down to a science. It’s that perfect video game balance of being both incredibly frustrating and insanely addicting at the same time, sucking players into a cycle of “yeah, okay, one more game.” The lobby keeps the matches coming, the ranks keep the unlocks rolling, and the stats make it all feel worthwhile.

No trouble with doubles

The newest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer element, Gunfight, is absolutely a highlight of the experience. In this new mode, two teams of two duke it out in a close arena-style, last-team-standing match. Every player starts with the same gun and class and spawns in identical positions, and the first team to six wins takes the match. It’s a great example of leveling the playing field and letting the most skilled team win, and it is absolutely intense.

Like the rest of the gameplay, this mode seems to reward patience and teamwork. While running headfirst into danger is always an option, staying back and letting the enemy make the first move seems to be the best tactic and leads to the highest success rate.

While playing with a friend is always the best way to go, Gunfight is still an intense and fast-paced mode with a random partner. Yeah, it can be frustrating at times if players are paired with inexperienced or uncooperative teammates, but Infinity Ward seems to understand matchmaking fairly well.

Not all is perfect

Trying to keep up with other franchises, one of the major selling points for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer was the introduction of the new modes Special Ops and Ground War. While these ideas work on paper, they don’t exactly play out in practice.

Special Ops, the newest coop mode, feels a lot like Infinity Ward’s answer to the social shooter “Strikes” of games like Destiny 2. In teams of 4, players must work together to battle through waves of enemy bots and bosses to achieve different mission objectives and unlock more of the “story” (sort-of). In theory, it sounds awesome, but it’s mind-numbingly awful in execution.

In Special Ops, every objective is incredibly far apart, enemy bots feel both endless and worthless, and the incentive to keep continuing is nonexistent. Unlike Destiny 2 “Strikes,” there is no real coherent narrative that moves players from one objective to the next. Instead, it’s just cookie-cutter “shoot this character” or “stand by this area” quests that feel like huge wastes of time. Combine that with a large empty map and boring enemies, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Modern Warfare Multiplayer

Similarly, Ground War—while a little more interesting—is just as much of a swing-and-a-miss. Taking a few pages out of the Battlefield franchise’s playbook, this mode has 32-man teams and vehicles fighting for control of strategic positions. Again, great in theory, but terrible in execution.

With this Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer game type, it isn’t that everything works poorly. It just doesn’t really sync up into a coherent experience. Ground War plays out exactly as one would expect with vehicles and a larger map, but it still somehow devolves into a convoluted mess of hallways shooting and rapid, almost random deaths. Simply put, its biggest issue is just an incompatibility between the Call of Duty and Battlefield models. The combat just does not feel well-suited to the style of gameplay and the mode just lacks the polish and balance of the Battlefield games.

Where’s the royale?

While many may still disagree, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer feels like it needs a Battle Royal mode to round the whole experience out. As always, multiplayer quickplay is fun for a time, but having something else to break up the repetitive team deathmatch routine would be a welcome addition.

Infinity Ward could even try to mix their experience up a little bit by making a duos Gunfight-style mode the highlight of their BR offering. While single-player is probably the simplest way to play, adding an element of cooperation might make for an interesting and fresh experience.

Rumor has it that this multiplayer mode is in the works and coming in a later update, and it feels like a natural fit. The way that guns are upgraded in the class menu makes finding weapon parts a logical next step. Hopefully, this mode can revitalize the player base of Call of Duty once the holidays roll around.

More of the same

Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer is a slight variation of the traditional Quick Play-style gameplay that the franchise is known for, and that’s not always a bad thing. For diehard fans of the franchise, it’s the same old Modern Warfare package with a fresh coat of paint. Sure, the gunplay and combat changes do take a while to get used to, but after a few hours of mindlessly running through maps, players should be well on their way to 20 kill games.  

For those looking for a fairly basic Call of Duty multiplayer experience with some slight gameplay tweaks, this one is for you. But if you want something new and revolutionary, take a different route.

Check out our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign mode.

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Game Reviews

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Campaign: Finally Shooting in the Right Direction

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Modern Warfare campaign

Let’s face it, not many people buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare titles for the story anymore. With the dominance of the multiplayer modes, it’s almost like the campaign has become a tacked-on bonus to play if there is ever a problem with the WiFi connection.

A lot of that has to do with the narrative direction of the franchise—it has felt downright cookie-cutter in the past. Every year, COD offers the same old thing. Some generic serviceman is sent to a war-torn 3rd world country to save the free world from a random insurgent leader, military dictator, or rebel group. Sprinkle in some nuclear launch codes, chemical weapons, and futuristic military technology, and there’s the go-to formula for the series.  

With that said, imagine everyone’s surprise when Infinity Ward announced that they were reimagining the Modern Warfare franchise by rebooting its defining title. To establish this entry as a turning point, their new vision for the game would be bold, unapologetic, gritty, and realistic. By moving in this new and unexplored direction, the veteran developer believed that this was THE opportunity to create a new title that could change the landscape of AAA narratives forever.

So how did they do with this fresh direction for the Modern Warfare campaign? Actually, surprisingly well given the franchise’s history of forgettable stories and lackluster single-player experiences. The new 2019 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign is actually an interesting and inventive take on the series and sets the table for some killer opportunities for future success if handled correctly. While it’s not without a few missteps along the way, overall Infinity Ward delivers on their promise and serves up a unique war experience unlike any in recent memory.

Finally, a story worth playing

Taking place in fictional Urzikstan, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign puts players in the tough moral situations of war, asking them to consider what makes a “righteous” cause, an enemy combatant, or a war crime. Initially, the story seemed to follow the traditional COD trajectory, as players start as a CIA ghost tasked with finding a stolen shipment of chemical gas, but the story takes a quick turn into uncharted territory. This usually translates to showing gamers a glimpse of the much darker world of the present day, having players respond to a major terror attack, protect a stormed embassy, or stalk terrorist ringleaders through tunnel mazes.

Sure, these plot devices may feel a bit similar to past campaigns, but it’s Modern Warfare’s murkier presentation that elevates these elements to new heights. Instead of having the feeling of mowing down hundreds of faceless, generic computer bots to advance to the next mission, there is a weight to the combat and atmosphere that adds a certain gravity to the narrative. It could be because of the new focus on characters or just the general atmosphere, but this new aesthetic goes a long way in creating a more immersive Modern Warfare campaign experience.

That being said, while the campaign is solid, it’s no Black Hawk Down or Homeland. The story arc of the main characters, Alex and Kyle, play out far too abruptly and lack the nuance of deep development. It almost feels like a few things were cut for time from the original script or just got lost in translation to favor gameplay. As a result, some of the larger “critical” points about terrorism and morality fall a little flat as the story progresses. Sure, Infinity Ward deserves some credit for ambitiously trying to make some deep statements in video game form, no small feat for a AAA dev, but these complex issues require complex stories to flesh them out and do them justice.

Mostly killer, a little filler

What really sets this title apart from past entries is its willingness to experiment with level design, making for some really unique gameplay moments. Of course, the campaign has all the COD staples—the generic sniper mission, the protect the base objectives, etc, etc. But it’s the new stuff that creates some excitement for the future of the franchise.

Most memorable of these Modern Warfare campaign levels were the missions involving nighttime raids on suspected terrorist cells. As players slowly move from floor to floor with their tactical squad, they are forced to quickly assess whether characters are enemies or civilians. When corners are quickly turned, some of the people react in fear, some pull weapons, and others make a long con to distract while danger lurks nearby. To make things even better, these whole missions take place in dead silence and through night vision, giving it a vaguely Outlast-ey feel. Hopefully, Infinity Ward will be brave enough to bring more of these types of levels into the future of the series.

Modern Warfare campaign

Also, the Modern Warfare campaign seems to be less afraid of letting players choose their own path through the mission. Varying weapon types are available from the get-go and objectives can often be addressed in multiple ways, giving players more freedom. While the narrative doesn’t exactly feel non-linear (although that would have been even more interesting), it certainly opens up possibilities for a little more replayability than previous campaigns.

The devil is in the details

There was a healthy skepticism when Infinity Ward first promised that the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign would be gritty and realistic, but they truly lived up to their word. Civilians and enemies both drop at a similar rate, takedowns are visceral and brutal, and the subject matter of the game can be downright sickening. There are times that will actually have players think, “I’m too soft for war,” which is absolutely the feeling that Infinity Ward is going for.

To achieve this depth, all the assets and cinematics work well in tandem. The gunplay is visceral and realistic, giving some of the best FPS feelings in the current-gen. The cinematics is also awe-inspiring, literally light years away from the Uncanny Valley. To be quite honest, it actually makes one wish that there were more cinematics in the game. 

Finally shooting in the right direction

Although not a perfect game, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign might be one of the bigger surprises of the year in terms of expectations. With a franchise that has been running this long on such half-hearted narrative experiences, the stakes for the title were incredibly low. But Infinity Ward has delivered something worth playing that truly feels like the vision that they promised. Sure, the campaign is not without flaws, as it would be great to see a tighter story and even more diverse gameplay elements, but it is absolutely worth a play just to experience its better moments.

Even though the Modern Warfare campaign is no Game of the Year contender, it’s nice to know that the franchise is finally headed back in the right direction. Who knows? Maybe one day people will pick the game up for the campaign over the multiplayer, instead of vice-versa.

Speaking of multiplayer, check out our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer mode.

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